A prosthetic limb when fitted on a Leprosy patient after an amputation can sometimes be more than an appliance that helps him walk.
When we joined Anandaban we were blessed to have Sharan Prasad Ruchal join the Staff. He was a highly skilled paramedic from Tansen who doubled up as an anaesthetic technician administering spinal anaesthesia when needed in Theatre. He had been trained in Prosthetics with the famous Jaipur Foot and the Prosthetic Limb Centre at Anandaban was opened under his guidance.
A man of few words, who lived by example, Ruchal was a invaluable assistant when I worked in Anandaban. I could depend on him with my eyes closed. I admired his integrity, his quiet dignity, his proficiency at work and the way he switched effortlessly from one role to another, be it in Theatre, in the wards , crafting a limb or leading the worship for the community at prayers as their beloved Ruchal Dai.
When we fitted Ram Bahadur with the Jaipur Foot after his below knee, BK amputation, we presumed that the limb would help him move from point A to point B giving him the independence that he so needed and is so vital after losing a limb. It did get Ram Bahadur from point A to Point B . But it got him much more than mobility.
After he was discharged he disappeared for a few years. When he came back we did not recognise the new avatar of the simple amputee who had shuffled away gratefully. He walked with a swagger, dangled many chains from his neck, flashed many rings on every finger and had a shiny watch to boot. He was apparently very flush.
After a few days at the hospital and a few pegs of the local hooch ,he bragged about how he had made it big. Nepal shares a long and porous border with India and the dedicated check posts placed at strategic points do not curb the illegal traffic of humans and drugs in and out of either country. Ram Bahadur had found a novel use for his hollow Jaipur foot.
He used to pack Hashish in plastic bags at the bottom of the hollow of the prosthetic limb. Over the potential loot of weed , he would pack raw meat that he allowed to decay with a horrendous stench. When the stench had reached a swooning score on an invisible scale, he would strap the artificial limb back and hobble across to the check post. Smelling him approach well before they saw him , the guards would pinch their noses and wave him across presuming that the stench came from his decaying Leprosy foot. Safely across the border and out of earshot he would empty the contents of his artificial limb, clean out his hollow artificial limb and proceed to peddle his wares making him an extremely rich and happy entrepreneur.
There are artificial limbs …and there are artificial limbs.